Socialization is a process of learning through interacting with people who live in our environment. This interactive process is brought about through connecting with others and making our own decisions in our lives, some of which is through the process of “influencing those who influence us”. There are two main approaches on socialization, the first is the functionalist approach and the conflict theory approach to socialization, the second is the new approach to socialization.
Functionalists and conflict theorists both believe that socialization “conforms to an internalization model”.
Functionalists focus their research on the people who are being socialized, the people and institutions that do the socializing, and the results of socialization of the people being socialized.
Functionalist’s research is aimed mainly to find out exactly who athletes are being socialized from. When athletes were young it was found that the main influencers were their families, teachers, coaches, friends and role models. These influencers are described as the “significant others”.
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These researchers send out questionnaires to children and high school students to try to find out exactly who influences a person to play a certain sport, and what personal characteristics they have to require to be interested in sport. However many of these methods have presented “inconsistent and contradictory findings”.
Unfortunately the information form these questionnaires have not given a clear view on sport socialization as a process in peoples lives.
Conflict theorists even though they use the internalization model as well concentrate more on socialization serving “the economic needs of capitalist systems”, through trying to make people hard workers. They believe that people with money and are higher up in they line of work in society try to use “economic forces” to make sure that they stay in their powerful positions.
Conflict theorists focus on whether or not competitive sports encourage racism and sexism among athletes and coaches, if people less fortunate and of poorer backgrounds are denied playing sports the way they want to, and if the powerful people in society make sports the way they want them for money.
It has shown that athletes will go to all lengths for sport participation, even as far as violence to win and playing while injured which could cause them to never play again, but to them its worth it all for one game.
Some researchers have been dissatisfied with the methods of functionalists and conflict theorists that they turned to the “interactionist models of socialization”.
These researchers use more “qualitive rather that quantitive” methods to gain their information. They prefer to observe the players, their life styles and use one to one interviews to find out who they are and exactly why they participate in sport, rather than using questionnaires to give the answers that we need to know about sport socialization. These researchers’ main aims are to find out in detail peoples personal experiences in sport, how they make the decision to participate in sport and what they gain from sport.
The results found from using interviews, and observing and studying athletes while playing sport has shown that participation in sport is a decision that people make each day of their lives for different reasons. It has been shown that there are three main examples of socialization; the first is becoming the athlete, becoming known and accepted, and lastly the decision “to participate or not to participate”.
Research of how people become athletes has been studied by a sport sociologist, Chris Stevenson. He realised that there are two main processes that proceed to become an athlete; the first is the “introduction and involvement”. This starts off by young children being gradually introduced to sports through important people that influence them such as their family, friends and teachers. Gradually over time they decide to stick mainly to a particular sport that they feel they are good at and enjoy mainly due to the good experiences received while playing that sport. The second process is the “developing a commitment” to the sport that they have chosen to participate in. This process starts the children form good relationships with their coaches and other players, and as they start to get noticed and appreciated. As they get more encouraged to play at the sport and start to form strong identities as athletes they become committed to participating in the sport and want to be counted as an athlete.
Both of these processes are continuous processes that occur over time, they are complex and can not be taken for granted as circumstances like support and resources that the athletes require for participation can change and mean they may have to alter their sport participation. Stevenson has therefore shown through his studies that socialization is an interactive process that we all participate in.
To become known and accepted in any sport you first have to have knowledge about the sport, talk to people involved in the sport and get to know their views and opinions, and finally get known in the group as an athlete and part of the same team. Becoming accepted as an athlete in a sport all comes down to whether you are able to “talk the talk and walk the walk”. If an athlete does not manage to keep up with any changes then they may face losing their acceptance and support which overall could affect their participation. This process of having to become accepted occurs in every sport of every kind, each unique sport has it own way of communicating with each other. It is known that if athletes are not fully accepted, their participation in the sport may not last, which again shows that sport participation is complex and that socialization is interactive.
“To participate or not to participate” in sport can be due to many reasons, some to changes in circumstances, past experiences, and others due to lack of support or resources. Some young people use sport just to have a sense of control in their lives and show to be competent. These people base whether they play sport mainly on what it is they want to do in their future. People drop out of sport for many different reasons; injury, win-oriented teams and coaches, or never being accepted fully into their sport. Most of the time though people do not drop out of sport all together they decide to play less demanding sports or decide move into different roles like becoming a coach. This also portrays how socialization is continuous and interactive.
In conclusion there are different approaches to socialization that conform to either an “internalization model” or an “interactionist model”. These approaches show that socialization is a process which is continuous, interactive, and complex; that involves us to make decisions every day of our lives, and requires support and acceptance from others.
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